Muse's The 2nd Law can be summed up by listening to the first minute of opening track Supremacy. Sprawling, bombastic and overflowing with ideas, yet somehow lacking something that's impossible to place.
First single Madness harnesses everything that the band loves about Queen; their vocal harmonies reminiscent of Killer Queen or A Kind Of Magic, before Panic Station throws in a power pop curveball. Four minutes of high pitched vocal harmonies and inventive bass work from Chris Wolstenholme creating a Bee Gees-esque stomp that is as curious as it is smile-inducing.
Survival, familiar after receiving widespread airplay following its selection as the official song for the London Olympics, is one of the album's standout tracks. Anthemic and geared for Radio play, Survival is the most classically 'Muse' song on offer, Matt Bellamy employing his remarkable falsetto and enviable guitar playing to full effect. Yet The 2nd Law doesn't feel like an album, more a soundtrack or (at risk of providing more comparisons with Queen) even a rock opera. Instead of providing a dozen cohesive songs, each track stands alone in its own right and offers new ideas and evidence of fresh influences at every turn.
Save Me and Liquid State, two songs co-written by bassist Wolstenholme provide very different sides to his personal battle with alcohol. The former provides an uplifting, U2-esque ode to his family before Liquid State offers futuristic arena rock tailored for big stages; swirling, guitar-driven and bombastic as any track on The 2nd Law.
The track of most contention, Unsustainable, the song that set the internet alight on release, is actually one of the album's highlights. Effectively incorporating the infamous dubstep elements that have become almost an Albatross for Muse with this release, the dynamic and intricacies of the music hearken back to tracks like Invincible, Butterflies and Hurricanes from earlier in their career.
Despite the mismatched nature of the album, there are moments of brilliance in The 2nd Law but they will take time to find. A number of the tracks will sound enormous in the live environment, alongside Muse's customary stage show but, if nothing else, this brave approach is refreshing in an age where so much music is manufactured for the mainstream.
There can be no doubt that there will be a number of knee-jerk reactions to The 2nd Law, be they in relation to the dubstep elements in Unsustainable or that the album hasn't offered another Plug in Baby. This fact is unavoidable, but the reality is that Muse deserve a lot of respect for this record. For a band as revered as they are to experiment as much as they have, to explore these new ideas and incorporate the elements that they have, Muse should be praised, not slated. Time will tell.
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